Win Over Your Staff and Build a Better Practice

I wouldn’t go to a dog show with my boss—even if he’d win!” Yes, that’s what one staff member had to say when I asked several of them if their doctor takes his staff out of town for any fun seminar/vacation trips. I often write and lecture about the tremendous benefits that can be gained by treating your staff to a great weekend at a nice vacation site while attending courses that will help improve your practice. But, I didn’t quite expect to hear a response like that.

I’ve discussed this topic so many times that maybe I’ve developed tunnel vision, and just assumed all staff members would want to go on an office trip with their doctors. Then, I became aware of several situations where staff members had absolutely no desire to spend any more time with their “boss” than what was absolutely necessary!

My surprise quickly turned to sympathy for the doctor (and the staff) because I just couldn’t imagine how unpleasant their work environment must be. For offices in this situation, staff trips shouldn’t be a priority right away; there are more important things to deal with first.

I realize there are exceptions to every rule, so understand that I’m talking in generalities when discussing this whole issue. I would assume, however, that if staff members really don’t enjoy their doctors enough to spend even a little time out of the office with them, then that office is not nearly as profitable as it could be. There is too much proof out there, including my own experiences, that shows when staff members “like” their doctor, they will perform better and are more loyal and dedicated employees.

So, if you are really trying to build a million dollar staff to help drive your practice to the top, you first have to analyze just how your staff feels about you. Sure, you can take the approach that it doesn’t matter what they think; you’re the boss and they simply need to do what you tell them to do. It may get the job done, but I guarantee it won’t be good enough to take your practice to the next level. For some doctors, this can be the most difficult philosophical decision they make in their careers. Some will never make the change to do what I think is essential, and that is to “win over” your staff!

Many doctors are above that. For whatever reason, they just won’t make the effort to win them over, but they bend over backwards to insist that their staff win over their patients. It’s equally important, if not more so, for doctors to win over their staffs as it is to win over their patients. You get the staff on your side, and they’ll take care of your patients better than you.

That’s the easy answer—apply some of the same principles when dealing with your staff as you do your patients. You shouldn’t use Dale Carnegie principles only on your patients; everyone appreciates these ef­forts, especially your staff, when done in a genuine manner. Aha! That’s the tricky part—it has to be genuine! If it’s not, it won’t work with your staff just as it doesn’t work with your patients when you’re not sincere.

I believe that people can change the way they are once they are convinced that a different direction is a better path to follow. Once convinced that you may have a better life in many regards if you treat certain people a different way, you can genuinely change from within.

If you think your staff might not go to a dog show with you, then you may want to try a different approach in dealing with them. Go ahead, make an effort and try to win them over. I would like to share a few perspectives on how to go about doing this. The first thing is to get to know them. I’ve heard too many times how some doctors don’t even know the names of their staff members’ children, and these were in small offices.

Please allow me a little self-indulgence to emphasize this important point. About 12 years ago, after hiring a new dental assistant, we all went out to lunch as we usually do to welcome and get acquainted with the newest member of our office family. As we were going through the salad bar line I had a conversation with Cheryl, our new member. She was telling me about the new job her boyfriend just started. It was a short conversation and then we joined the rest of the staff.

At her 3-month review, she said something that has stuck with me all these years. At first, she was telling me how much she loved her new job and considered it the best job she’d ever had. She said she knew that I was different than any other “boss” she’s had because I listened to her. She then mentioned that conversation we had at the salad bar, and said that about 3 weeks later I asked her about her boyfriend’s new job. She told me she was shocked that I remembered our prior conversation, and jokingly said that most doctors really never pay attention to anything she says. We are always told to listen to our patients; well, it works with our staff also.

Probably the number one thing that drives a wedge between a potentially great employee and the doctor is when the doctor reprimands them in front of a patient. It’s bad enough to do it in front of another staff member, but it’s worse when done in front of patients. To put it very simply, it hurts their feelings. At first it does, then after repeat times, it just downright makes them angry! That’s when hatred and animosity come in. At this point it’s an uphill battle to gain their support, and is seldom done—it’s hard to unring a bell! Believe me, I’ve been there many times and have learned to bite my tongue.

On the flip side of that, everyone has a deep desire to be appreciated. Sure, we need to know when to shut up, but we also need to know when to speak up. Many times a simple pat on the back and a kind word go a lot farther than a pay increase. Twenty-two years ago I learned a valuable lesson. I treated my four-member staff to a shopping spree at one of our big malls. They each had $100 to spend in 1 hour, and whatever they didn’t spend, I got back. The hour was up, and we all met at a preplanned location in the center of the mall to verify that indeed they only purchased items for themselves, and to see if I were to receive any money back. I noticed that Sharon didn’t have any bags with her and I asked her why. She took me off to the side and handed me the $100 bill. She said that since I just started my practice I shouldn’t be so generous with my money, and that really a pat on the back would be much more appreciated than the $100. I grabbed the $100 bill and stuffed it in my pocket and said thanks for the advice. Just kidding! I gave her the money back while sincerely thanking her for teaching me a valuable lesson.

So many of us know that we need to compliment our employees, but for various reasons we just don’t get around to it. I know I still don’t do it enough, but I keep trying. I realize the importance of it so much that sometimes I will actually write myself a note at home to compliment a certain person the next day. On the other hand, some employers be­lieve that if you compliment an employee too much, that gives them sufficient grounds to expect higher salaries. Okay, there may be some people out there who are an exception to this rule, but I’m not going to let a few opportunists deter me from doing what I think is best for my staffs’ attitudes and my practice.

By simply practicing just these few principles, you will have staff members who are more dedicated, loyal, and motivated in helping you build a successful practice. And then, to really supercharge them, plan a vacation/seminar trip and watch the excitement build. There are some doctors who never plan these trips because they know their staff doesn’t want to go. If you do the above, they’ll be constantly hitting you up for another trip. Everyone wins!

So, where do you go? First decide if you’re going primarily to collect continuing education credits and information for your practice, or mostly just for fun. A 50/50 split is a good way to begin, but I’ve done many that were 25/75, 75% being the fun part. I’ve always found the benefit of the whole staff being to­gether on one of these trips is often more valuable than the actual information that we learn at the seminars. Begin with that decision and pick a meeting/vacation site that fits your needs. Sometimes it’s nice to go more for the enjoyment of a vacation and just plan on a 1-day course, so you can have the rest of the weekend for fun. Of course, there are plenty of 1-day seminars all over the country in many nice vacation sites.

There is often the concern of how a doctor is to pay for these trips. You can do it one of two ways. Some offices work extra days with­out pay, and that money goes into a vacation fund. Employees who don’t want to participate have that option, and are not included in the trip. That day’s production is based on an average of that week’s production just to eliminate any temptation to load up that workday with all crown and bridge. Or you can simply pay for the trip based on some type of increased profit levels that make it possible to afford the trip. That’s how I do it.

Another concern has to do with inviting staff spouses. Most of our trips are without spouses, but occasionally they’re invited at their own cost. My staff understands that if I’m going to spend the office’s hard-earned money to go out of town for one of these trips, then I expect a good return on my investment by building a stronger, more cohesive team. In most cases, that doesn’t happen when spouses are included because couples often will go off on their own and not be with the group.

We dentists often un­derestimate just how valuable a gift it is to reward our staffs with such trips. Travel for many of us may not be a novelty anymore; but to some people, including dental staff personnel, some of these trips can be a first-time experience. For many female staff members who are mothers, a reprieve from the little ones sometimes is one of the most appreciated benefits they will ever be of­fered. These kinds of experiences are what builds team camaraderie that in­volves the doctor and benefits the practice. 

Go ahead, you can do it—get started with planning your next trip; maybe for some, your first. Kick back and have fun with your staff; it’s one of the best things you can do for your practice.

Dr. Steven has been a full-time practicing dentist in Wichita, Kan, since 1978. He is a member of the ADA and the Kansas Dental Association, and is the current president of the Mid-America Dental Study Club. He is also president of KISCO, a dental products marketing company, providing “new ideas for dentistry” to dental offices, and is the editor of the KISCO Perspective newsletter. Dr. Steven, along with Dr. Mark Troilo, presents the KISCO Seminar's “The $1,000,000 Staff” presentation to dental offices and organizations across the country. Dr. Steven also presents a 1-day seminar called “Efficient-dontics.” You can reach him at (800) 325-8649;e-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; or visit his website at www.KISCODental.com.
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